Leaders know when NOT to follow the crowd

“Whether you lead or follow, do it with intention.”

~Larysa Slobodian

Have you ever been to the Opera? O.K. I realize that going to the opera is not everybody’s bag but maybe you’ve at least been to a performance of any kind in a large theater.  Recently, I went to see Seattle Opera present “Madam Butterfly”. It was a tremendous performance.  Seattle Opera is truly outstanding and I always feel so privileged to watch the best of the best perform their craft.

Taking your own path can present you with new views.

What I found most curious to me came after the show. For this performance, we were up on the third tier of magnificent McCaw Hall in Seattle.  As we, the audience, began our slow shuffle towards the exit, I noticed that we were all moving toward the same stair case which led to the main floor and to the outside.  Noticing the slow pace of movement, I found myself interested in moving more quickly than the crowd would allow.

I looked around and noticed at the other end of the hall was another stair case that led down to the first floor and the exit doors. It was virtually empty!  So I made like a wild salmon and headed up stream for about a 30 second detour, reached the nearly empty staircase, then down the stairs and voila! I was outside.  I looked back and noticed that everybody was still shuffling along to the other stair case.  What was perhaps more amazing to me was that even the people who were close to the empty stair case just followed the crowd into the congestion.  For them, a simple glance away from the crowd would have manifested a quick and easy route to the street AND less congestion for everybody else.

Look up from the crowd in order to see your options.

What does this example have to do with leadership? Well, here is my leadership invitation for you.  It’s not that following the crowd is always bad or that going your own way is always well advised.  I’m using this example as a metaphor and to offer you an opportunity to ponder your approach to your leadership.  Are there times when you automatically follow the crowd at work?  Do you blindly follow the competition and call it innovation?  Do you hold back when you know that you have something to offer because nobody else is speaking up?  Are you missing opportunities while you focus straight ahead on the well traveled path instead of taking a moment to pause and consider your options, your plan or your desired approach?

As we lead, sometimes we absolutely need to support the ideas of others. Intentionally supporting is another form of leadership. If everybody went running in whatever direction that they wanted all the time, then there would be chaos.   Sometimes we may have a brilliant opportunity right in front of us if we are willing to pause,  look around and question the direction of the crowd.  You have to decide when it is right for you.  My invitation to you,  whether you are following another, supporting a group idea, or exploring a new direction,  is to do it with intention.

The L4 Leadership Message

I understand that sometimes it’s not safe to break from the pack.  For sure, at times there is wisdom in staying together.  AND please realize that there’s nothing “safe” about leadership.  Leadership is risky. Leadership requires doing what others may not be willing or able to do.   Anybody who has lead anything knows that leading can be dangerous, lonely and certainly scary.   Consciously leading when others just don’t or just won’t can manifest unique paths and offer great learning for personal and organizational growth (or in my case, a more efficient and stress free exit from the theater and to the car).

Be aware that you have options. Be intentional about creating possibilities. Choose and act mindfully.

Thank you for reading and please share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Warm wishes for great success and happiness on your leadership journey!


Larysa Slobodian, MA

L4 Leadership


  1. Lisa May 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Thanks, Larysa! A nice reminder to pause and consider before leaping into action. Pausing seems sooo hard, but is clearly necessary to establish an intension and direction.

  2. Wendi May 24, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    Another great article, I so totally agree. Don’t be a lemming! It wasn’t until I had stepped away from the safety of my “line leader”, that I’d become more successful in my job. Sometimes my ideas/processes worked, and sometimes they did not. But becoming comfortable with that, and being able to step away from the group once in a while, fostered a “work smarter, not harder” mentality : )

  3. Larysa Slobodian May 24, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    Thanks Lisa. Pausing is hard like you said and so useful. Thanks for reading!

    Larysa Slobodian
  4. Larysa Slobodian May 24, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    LOVE your story Wendi! Thanks for sharing it. You are a leader!

    Larysa Slobodian
  5. Steve May 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    Very cool article. Thanks for posting and a good reminder to pay attention to options.

  6. Boomer's Buddy May 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    “The ‘surplus society’ has a surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality.” – Kjell Nordström and Jonas Ridderstråle, Funky Business. While there are baseline ‘sameness’ needs – table stakes – consistent excellence in the chosen dimensions is necessary for long term wins and creates the moat – be it for a person, a product or an organization

  7. Larysa Slobodian May 29, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    Lots of opportunities to be unique Boomer’s Buddy! Thanks for reading and for commenting.

    Larysa Slobodian
  8. Al M June 4, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    In the ideal case, effective leaders are selected by their peers. You don’t learn how to be a leader by reading a book on the subject. You learn how to be an effective leader by leading. That is why it is so important for young people to participate in activities that require a leader. It is at that age when you learn how to be an effective leader. You can make mistakes as a kid and can correct them w/o having a stigma – of course you cannot have a long history of mistakes. A lot of the learning experience is by trial/error. As an adult, say in a working environment, mistakes are not tolerated. I well remember employees coming to me and saying that they would like to be a supervisor. My typical response was, “Are you the chair of any committees outside of work, were you the captain of your tiddler winks team, etc?” If the answer is, “no” then my response was, “if you never were a leader, what makes you think that you would become an effective one by having the title of supervisor.”
    I feel that it is rare to be in a lemming situation – am I wrong?

  9. Larysa Slobodian June 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    Great comments Al! Leadership and title are not equal. Leadership is about behavior. The title does not give you the heart, experience or emotional intelligence for leadership.

    Larysa Slobodian
  10. Larysa Slobodian June 4, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    And p.s. I do think that there are plenty of “lemming” situations. My invitation is to just assess if you are in one, and be mindful if you’d like to choose another way, (i.e. the open staircase).

    Larysa Slobodian
  11. Ray C June 18, 2012 at 7:53 am #


    A great reminder. The message “Leadership is risky” is a good one. It is very easy to ease into the “safe lane” (aka “agreement lane”), especially when there is concern against going against the grain for fear of impacting potential advancement opportunities. Stay true to yourself. Hope all is well with you.

  12. Larysa Slobodian June 18, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    All is great with me Ray and always even better when I hear from you. Thanks for reading and for commenting. Hope you’re doing great too and being true to YOU!

    Larysa Slobodian

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